Ironman runs smoothly thanks to tireless volunteers

They say the best way to experience Ironman Wisconsin is as a volunteer who donates time, and even as the event approaches, there still are ample opportunities for area residents to volunteer.

When people think about the annual Ironman Wisconsin triathlon, much of the focus is justifiably placed on the phenomenal athletes who compete on race day, but this year the activities leading up to Sunday, Sept. 9 are every bit as important.

From Thursday, Sept. 6, when the estimated 2,500 athletes begin checking in at Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, all the way through the volunteer appreciation party held the evening after the athletes engage in long-distance swims, bikes, and runs, Dane County residents help these remarkably fit competitors put on a show.

All these physically fit specimens are a sight to behold, and aerobic showmanship is aided and abetted by thousands of volunteers who have taken ownership of the annual event and help make it run as smoothly as the fittest, most “carbed-up” marathoner. Organizers say the best way to experience the Ironman is as a volunteer who donates time, especially on race day, to help athletes get to the finish line. Yet volunteerism is not only fun for individuals, it’s an ideal way for Madison employers to get their staffs involved in an event that last year pumped an estimated $4 million into the local economy.

These opportunities will be around for a while. The Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Madison Area Sports Commission have announced that the contract for the competition has been extended through 2021, and athletes have rated Madison as offering the best Ironman host city experience.

“What Ironman participants and the Ironman organization appreciate about Madison is the consistency we provide with volunteers, with local support, and with the enthusiasm that local businesses have when they greet athletes and their fans during their stay here in Madison,” says Rob Gard, director of public relations and communications for the Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Even as race day fast approaches, those who want to help expose participants to some Madison-style hospitality still have time to fill remaining volunteer opportunities. Gard says the GMCVB relies on roughly 3,800 volunteer-hours or volunteer shifts during event’s five-day span. Some people serve multiple shifts, “but we’re still talking about thousands of local volunteers who are involved with the event,” he states. “Those volunteers start helping on the days leading up to the actual event, and then of course on the day of the event, there are a number of opportunities.”

What kinds of things do volunteers do? To Gard, who witnessed his first Ironman last year, their level of commitment and involvement is fascinating. It’s fascinating because it’s everything from helping guide athletes through transitions — pointing the way from the water (swim) to the bike route and from the bike route to the changing area for the run. There literally are hands-on applications such as applying sunblock to athletes, helping at the “carb-load” dinner leading up to race day, or helping with the “Iron Kids” Fun Run on Saturday, Sept. 8.

“There are all kinds of volunteer opportunities, depending on what your interest is,” Gard notes. “What I really found fascinating was the number of kayaks that were out on the water last year. People were out there to monitor that swim and make sure the participants were swimming safely and were doing well.

“There are people who help with the courses, both guiding the athletes along the way and also keeping their eyes on the crowd and keeping spectators off the course routes, so it’s a little bit of everything.”

Granted, the Convention & Visitors Bureau would prefer volunteers present themselves sooner rather than later, but there is still time to get involved. To register for volunteer opportunities, click here.

Mandy Mommaerts, volunteer recruiter for Ironman Wisconsin, says there is still plenty of time for interested volunteers to register. “They can register online until Friday [Sept. 7],” she notes, “and then walk up to the volunteer tent, located at the corner of Wilson Street and Martin Luther King Blvd., on race day.”

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Spectator sports

If you prefer to enjoy the event as a spectator, just as 25,000 people did last year, or mix in athlete watching with your volunteer support, you’re perfectly welcome to do so. As with all Ironman events, the Sept. 9 race day consists of swimming, cycling, and running. In Madison, Ironman athletes will do the following:

  • Swim 2.4 miles in Lake Monona, beginning at 6:45 a.m., with a cut off time (for starting) of 9:25 a.m. Based on past contests, athletes completed this leg of the triathlon in an average time of one hour and 15 minutes. According to the GMCVB, the best spot to watch the start of the swim is the Monona Terrace waterfront.
  • Bike 112 miles, starting at 8 a.m. with a cut off time for starting of 5:35 p.m., both starting and ending at Monona Terrace, with an average finishing time of six hours and 30 minutes. Based on GMCVB recommendations, among the best spots to watch the cyclists are Riley Tavern in Verona (8205 Klevenville-Riley Road), the Midtown Road hill (one of the steepest inclines along the route), and the Verona Loop Festival along Verona Road, with a celebration that takes place right in the center of the bike course. Free shuttle bus service to the Verona Loop is available for spectators; the pick-up and drop-off point is located near Monona Terrace at Wilson and Carroll streets. The shuttles will run continuously from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on race day.
  • Run a full 26.2-mile marathon, starting at approximately 1 p.m. in Downtown Madison and finishing on Martin Luther King Blvd. with a cut off time of 12:05 a.m. and an average finishing time of four hours and 30 minutes. Among the best spots to watch the runners are along State Street and the exterior of Camp Randall Stadium, the Lakeshore Path, and the finish line on Martin Luther King Blvd.

According to the GMCVB, the athletes’ overall average time for all three events combined is 13 hours and 15 minutes.

For interested volunteers and spectators, course maps are available here.

Monona Terrace features prominently in the five-day event, as it will be the site of several related programs and events, including the Ironman Village, the official Ironman Store, the Trek Bike Store and Tech Service Center, a massage room for the athletes, and the Sept. 10 awards ceremony and volunteer appreciation party.

Editor’s note: Ironman officials released the following statement regarding the event and its courses on Sept. 5 — “Due to the severe rain and flooding that the Greater Madison area and Dane County have experienced over the past several weeks, it has become necessary to make some modifications to the first and last three miles of the bike course due to the flooding on the trails. While the swim course and run course remain unchanged, removal of debris and monitoring the water quality remain top priority. Ironman officials are continuing to work with the local authorities to closely monitor the current situation. We remain committed to creating a safe and enjoyable experience for the event scheduled to take place on Sept. 9.

“For additional information, please continue to check the Ironman Wisconsin event website and Facebook page for updates.”

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